Law firm “can recoup outlay” from apprentice who quit early

Contract: 12 months was reasonable restraint, says tribunal

A law firm is entitled to recoup the money it spent training an apprentice who broke an agreement to stay at the firm for a year after completing his course, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Employment Judge Garnon in North Shields said Andrew Purcell, an IT technical support assistant at Newcastle-based Winn Solicitors, was paid £17,000 – “considerably more than the national minimum wage for apprentices”.

Judge Garnon said Mr Purcell started work at the firm in January 2016, and began the infrastructure technician level 3 trailblazer apprenticeship in October 2016, which cost around £16,500.

“During the two-year training, he was allowed day release rather than doing the work for which his salary was being paid, and permitted to do coursework during working hours.”

The employment tribunal heard that, before he had completed his training, Mr Purcell resigned in November 2017 and took up “better-paid employment”.

When he left, Winn deducted £500 from his final salary and the judge said the firm intended to pursue a claim against him for more.

Under the apprenticeship agreement, Mr Purcell agreed to stay at Winn “for a period of 12 months following conclusion of my training course” and if not pay the law firm “the full outlay made by them” in respect of the apprenticeship.

Mr Purcell agreed that if payment was not made before his employment ended, the firm had authority to “deduct any sums” from his final salary payment or, if this was not enough, he had to repay the balance within a month.

The judge said Winn had invoices to show it had already paid £5,500 in terms of “outlay” for the apprenticeship, and “may be fortunate to recoup part of that”.

He said that when the agreement was signed, neither party was clear about the cost because of the element of government funding.

Mr Purcell, who represented himself, told the tribunal “he believed the most he would have to pay was 10% of the cost of the course”, but the judge found he “was not told anything” about only having to pay 10%.

“I am wholly convinced the claimant was not deceived into entering the agreement, nor was any misrepresentation made to him.”

Judge Garnon said Mr Purcell had completed the end assessment of his training course, but not yet received the result.

“I asked him whether he had paid anything towards it and he had not. I asked him whether his new employer paid anything towards it and, to the best of his knowledge, they have not.

“The claimant, if he passes, he will have a qualification which has cost him nothing and his new employer will have a far better skilled employee, the training of whom has cost them nothing. It has all been paid for by Winn.”

The judge said it cost a lot to train up a person to do the claimant’s job. “If Winn fund that, it is a reasonable restraint on the employee that he should be contractually committed to remain with them at least for the duration of the apprenticeship and in my judgment for a reasonable time thereafter.

“I believe 12 months to be a reasonable time.”

Judge Garnon concluded that there was “nothing void, voidable or unenforceable about the agreement”, the deduction was within its express terms and was “not unlawful”. He dismissed the claim.

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